Yesterday afternoon, I collected a ticket from an old woman who was on an outbound New Haven train. She had grey hair and was dressed all in black. She reminded me of my friend's old Italian grandmother.
"Conductor," she yelled as she flagged me down, "Why is New Haven so far today?"
"New Haven is no further than it usually is," I said, "and we're on schedule."
"Oh, but the rides so long."
"Maybe it's because this train makes all the stops between Stamford and New Haven. You must normally take an express train, and skip a lot of the stations that we're making today."
"No," she shook her head. "New Haven is definitely farther today."
"Do you normally ride the train with family or friends?" I countered. "Good conversation can make the ride go by faster, you know."
"No" she said." "I always ride alone."
"Hmm" I tried to look pensive. "As far as I know, New Haven is still 72 miles away from Grand Central. Nothing has changed"
"Then why is the ride so much longer today?"
I briefly thought of saying something sarcastic like:
This morning a giant fissure opened up in the Harlem River, and due to plate tectonics and continental drift, New Haven has moved 20 miles to the east. This makes the commute 25 minutes longer. We just haven't had time to change the schedule yet.
But she seemed like a sweet old woman, I didn't want to be mean.
I finally gave up and said,"I don't know."
Why didn't I think of this answer in the first place?